... Out­rage over fired Prasa chief’s re­turn to board

The Sunday Independent - - Front Page - LEBOGANG SEALE

TRANS­PORT Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande is headed on a col­li­sion course with the newly ap­pointed Prasa board, by sec­ond­ing the en­tity’s con­tro­ver­sial for­mer group chief ex­ec­u­tive, Collins Let­soalo, to the board.

In a sur­prise move on Thurs­day, Nz­i­mande ap­pointed Let­soalo as non-ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber to the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) in­terim board that he an­nounced in April.

In­sid­ers at the state-owned en­tity have crit­i­cised the move, with some de­scrib­ing it as “out­ra­geously scan­dalous”.

In Fe­bru­ary last year, the then Prasa board ter­mi­nated Let­soalo’s con­tract as its act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive af­ter it emerged that he had in­creased his salary from R1.7 mil­lion to R5.9m a year, which was four times his agreed salary. Let­soalo – who was sec­onded to that po­si­tion by for­mer trans­port min­is­ter Dipuo Peters – had also al­legedly de­manded a chauf­feur-driven ve­hi­cle as well as a “com­pany cell­phone with un­lim­ited calls”. Let­soalo re­jected the claims.

In April Nz­i­mande, as part of his in­ter-min­is­te­rial in­ter­ven­tions, had ap­pointed an in­terim board led by Khany­isile Kweyama and Dr Si­mon Lushaba as chair­per­son and group chief ex­ec­u­tive re­spec­tively. The ail­ing en­tity has been dogged by a litany of cor­rup­tion-re­lated scan­dals, in­clud­ing ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture run­ning into bil­lions of rand and pro­cure­ment of new lo­co­mo­tives that are too tall for the rail net­work.

The ap­point­ment of the new board came af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of for­mer in­terim board chair­per­son, Tintswalo Makhubela.

The Sun­day In­de­pen­dent has been re­li­ably in­formed that mem­bers of the act­ing board are up in arms over Let­soalo’s ap­point­ment to the board. The of­fi­cials, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals, said Let­soalo’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the ail­ing en­tity would com­pro­mise the board’s in­tegrity and un­der­mine ef­forts to turn around its for­tunes.

“This de­ci­sion flies in the face of the min­is­ter’s anti-cor­rup­tion state­ments and our ef­forts to res­cue Prasa. If the min­is­ter was com­mit­ted about res­cu­ing this paras­tatal, he would not be ap­point­ing dis­graced peo­ple who carry such bag­gage,” said an in­sider.

An­other source said: “We are baf­fled by this de­ci­sion, espe­cially as some­one like Nz­i­mande has been preach­ing against cor­rup­tion. Ei­ther he is ill-ad­vised or mis­guided.”

The Sun­day In­de­pen­dent un­der­stands that the board in­tends to write a let­ter to Nz­i­mande to raise its un­hap­pi­ness with Let­soalo’s ap­point­ment.

The spokesper­son for the Depart­ment of Trans­port, Ish­mael Mnisi, said it was the pre­rog­a­tive of the min­is­ter to ap­point the board and that he was “un­der no le­gal obli­ga­tion to con­tact the board mem­bers in ap­point­ing any per­son, in terms of the act”.

Asked whether the al­leged malfea­sance against Let­soalo was con­sid­ered when the de­ci­sion to ap­point him was taken, Mnisi said this was done, in­clud­ing “the de­ci­sion of the Pre­to­ria High Court re­gard­ing the ben­e­fits that Mr Let­soalo was en­ti­tled to, in which the court found no merit in the al­le­ga­tions against (him)”.

“It bog­gles one’s mind that the board seemed to have some dif­fi­culty with Let­soalo earning the same salary or the salary of the GCEO (group chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer), the same amount that Mr Mon­tana earned per an­num or, put oth­er­wise, the salary that a GCEO was en­ti­tled to,” Mnisi said.

Con­tacted for com­ment, Let­soalo said: “I didn’t ap­point my­self… I re­main res­o­lute that I have done noth­ing wrong. I see my­self as among those who fight cor­rup­tion in the state.”

Let­soalo also cited the court judg­ment that found that he had de­served the 350% salary in­crease, when Judge PM Mabuse re­solved that the sacked Prasa board be re­in­stated.

The United Na­tional Trans­port Union (Untu) has also en­tered the fray, say­ing it was shocked by the min­is­ter’s “ill-ad­vised de­ci­sion” to ap­point Let­soalo as a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Prasa board. The union said although Let­soalo was never charged, the al­le­ga­tions re­mained a se­ri­ous con­cern.

“If the min­is­ter did not deem Let­soalo as un­fit to hold a po­si­tion on the Prasa board, he might just as well also ap­point for­mer Prasa chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Lucky Mon­tana as a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for his ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise of the pas­sen­ger rail in­dus­try,” said Untu gen­eral sec­re­tary Steve Harris.

Mnisi said Nz­i­mande had con­fi­dence in Let­soalo “as a sea­soned ad­min­is­tra­tor”.

But Harris said: “Dr Nz­i­mande said in his bud­get vote in Par­lia­ment (on May 18) that Prasa is los­ing money like an ATM and he wants to put a stop to it. Untu sup­ports the min­is­ter in his state­ment and be­lieves that this lost money must be used to­wards dras­ti­cally in­creas­ing safety on our rail­way lines na­tion­wide…

“How­ever, Untu doubts that the ap­point­ment of Let­soalo, ir­re­spec­tive of his ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise, will con­trib­ute to the much-needed turn­around strat­egy in ac­count­abil­ity, cred­i­bil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity.”

UN­WEL­COME: Collins Let­soalo, non-ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber of the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA in­terim board.

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